The bear incidents of last week should serve as a wake up call that we can’t be complacent when it comes to being bear smart.
I don’t want to pile on the community for not being educated or being careless or ignorant when it comes to co-habitating with bears. The events of last week were ugly and brought a black eye to the community. You don’t want to make the news by killing black bears.
I’m not going to blame people or the city or Bear Aware or the Conservation Officer Service. There’s numerous factors at play that combined to make the perfect storm for what happened.
Moving forward, how do we prevent this from happening again?
First, is education and awareness. Hopefully the heavy news coverage and conversations both offline and online will spur that piece. The news should drive home how important it is to not leave your garbage out and to manage your fruit trees.
Second is there’s a need to address the shortcomings in our garbage collection in town. I don’t just mean the door-to-door pickup, I mean everything from the commercial bins outside businesses to the small ones scattered throughout downtown. All those aesthetically pleasing garbage cans downtown should be replaced with bear-proof bins. And let’s get some proper recycling containers downtown while we’re at it. I don’t know how much they cost, but council should include them in next year’s budget.
At the same time, it should be mandated that every publicly accessible garbage can in town needs to be bear-proof.
Third is a policy that encourages households to buy their own bear-proof garbage bins. The city has looked at purchasing them for every home in town, but the cost is very high. An incentive program like a discount on your garbage bill could work if the city doesn’t want to spend the money to purchase them for every home. At the same time, keep shifting to centralized garbage bins in areas where it makes sense, like trailer parks and small side streets.
Fourth is a crackdown on unsecure garbage. The city needs to shift its bylaw hours (and not just for garbage) so an officer is working outside the hours of 9-5. If you had a bylaw officer start their shift at 5 a.m. one day a week, and to use that to look for people violating the garbage bylaw, it would go along way. They don’t even have to do it every week. If someone knows there’s even a small risk of a hefty fine for putting their garbage out early, they’re less likely to do so. If a few people are fined, that will hopefully be enough to get people to start complying.
The most difficult piece will be managing fruit trees. I imagine many of us have seen a bear up in a fruit tree, eating all the apples or plums before they’ve been picked. I’ve had the experience where the bears got into the tree before I did. Bear Aware’s Gleaning Project is great but I’m not sure if or how you can solve this problem.
Let’s use the events of last week (and this summer) as a wake-up call and a motivation to move forward. When I first arrived in town, council talked about becoming Bear Smart. Let’s get that talk going again.
We’re having a bad summer, let’s take steps to ensure it’s not repeated.